What’s New: Edward Lear Online

Houghton Library Blog 2013-03-29

Edward Lear. GELIBOLU [GALLIPOLI] 10 September 1848. MS Typ 55.26 (497)Houghton Library holds the largest collection anywhere of original works by the English author and artist Edward Lear (1812-1888). For the past two years the library has been engaged in a project to digitize all this material. The first phase of the endeavor included Lear’s natural history drawings, which were also the subject of an exhibition, “The Natural History of Edward Lear,” held at the library in 2012, and documented in Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume 22, Numbers 2-3 . The second phase, recently completed, involved the library’s large collection of Lear’s landscape drawings. From the late 1830s until the 1870s Lear travelled widely in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and in India. Everywhere he went, he made rapid sketches of the landscape, drawings he kept in his studio as sources for more finished watercolors or oil paintings. Although estimates of the possible number of these preliminary drawings have ranged as high as 10,000, the only substantial portion of the collection to have survived intact is a group of some 3,530 drawings that was owned by Lear’s friend and patron, Lord Northbrook. When this collection, preserved in two wooden storage cabinets made for Lear himself, came on the market in the 1930s, it was purchased by W.B.O. Field, a major donor to the Harvard Library. In 1942 Field gave it (and many other works by Lear) to Houghton Library, where his collection joined a smaller group of Lear’s works assembled by Philip Hofer, founder and curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Edward Lear. CAIRO. 10 January 1849. MS Typ 55.26 (646) The process of making the landscape drawings generally available began in the 1990s, with the creation of a detailed finding aid compiled by Nancy Finlay, then Assistant Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts. This document is now online, and for each drawing the image is now linked to the detailed description of it in the finding aid. Completion of this project required over a year’s work by Harvard College Library Imaging Services, and by Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Assistant Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, Susan Pyzynski, Associate Librarian of Houghton Library for Technical Services, and Emilie Hardman of Houghton Library’s Public Services division. Within the next months the library will complete the digitization of its entire Edward Lear collection by imaging its smaller collection of finished watercolors, albums of nonsense verse, and important publications by Lear—Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae or Parrots, Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, and his musical settings of poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

This post is part of a series called “What’s New.” Throughout the year, Houghton staff members will be blogging about new acquisitions and newly digitized materials. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the What’sNew tag.

[Thanks to Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing & Graphic Arts, for contributing this post.]